How Long Should It Take
to Write a Song?


By Michael Anderson
Michael Anderson
Like you, I have heard the apocryphal tales of the million selling hit song written in 15 minutes on the back of a restaurant napkin.

And I have had songs that seem to come out of thin air and write themselves in a relatively short period of time.

But in my personal experience and in talking to writers I respect over the years the more common process of writing a good song is a variation of the old screenwriter adage: a good song isn't written, it is rewritten.

More often than not that initial blinding inspiration of a song is just a good idea — sometimes a great idea. And as wonderful and magical as that is, the real work has just begun at that point.

One of the main differences I see between a good writer and someone who dabbles in the craft is persistence. I have mentioned before how in this business it is not always talent that wins out — sometimes the more dedicated, but less naturally gifted artist is the one who enjoys greater success over a longer period of time.

And so it is with songwriters. There is both inspiration and craftsmanship in a good song. Being able to ride that initial wave of inspiration is very important — the "just taking it down as it flows" part takes concentration and effort.

But the next stage — the crafting of the raw material from that inspiration — could be even more important.

Writing can be a lonely, difficult, tedious process. I encounter people every day who want to write songs under the impression that the blinding inspiration stage is pretty much it to the process — and they are quite put out when I suggest that the masterpiece they show me could possibly use some (or a lot of) crafting for improvement.

One of the hardest aspects of songwriting is dealing with time. But patience, for a songwriter, is not only a virtue, but also a necessity. Songwriting (and all creative endeavors for that matter) are not subject to time in the sense most jobs are. The process of crafting a song after the inspiration stage seems to enter a parallel universe or zone where time simultaneously stops and flies. Hours flash by in an instant.

Crafting a song is an incremental honing of the concept, working the melodic main phrases, building a linear storyline, working out the arrangement, and fitting all the pieces together in a way that is pleasing and makes sense to the listener. It's sitting in the song — letting it work itself — letting it talk to you.

To other people, it may not look like you are doing anything — staring at a lyric sheet, fiddling with a guitar or keyboard, humming or singing a line, recording a snippet of music or lyric. It is a difficult process to explain.

Although a generalization is necessarily an oversimplification, I have seen that for me, with steady work on a song, the process usually takes about three or four days to a week, with tweaking continuing sometimes for months or years after that. Not sure if that is an average or I am just slow (or fast depending on your perspective). But the key is the amount on focused time that is available.

And that is a big problem.

I have told my students of the days when I had nothing to do all day but write songs — a writers dream.

Those days seem like a long time ago now.

Many of us have more complicated lives with many things demanding time and attention — how do you balance a spoiled mistress like creativity and real world expectations on your time? If you find an answer let me know — because I haven't.

There is no compromise for the time and attention artistic creativity demands — if you want to live in that parallel universe and work in that zone you have to find a way to cut out everything else for the time the crafting work demands.

But there is something about hearing a good song come together — the realization perhaps a few days later when you are able to get some perspective and overview, that the song you just wrote is pretty good. In fact, with a couple days away — I find most songs sound even better than I remember.

Filmmakers say you never finish a movie — you just run out of time and money. Songwriting is like that.

How long should it take to write a song?

However long it takes to get it right.

Michael Anderson is the author of Michael Anderson's Little Black Book of Songwriting available at

See How TAXI Works

"I had the drive, and the passion. I just needed help, and you keep supplying it."
— Justin K.,
TAXI Member

"One of my tunes, "Rumba Azul," was licensed to a TV show, and I'm expecting a check very soon."
— Wayne Wesley Johnson,
TAXI Member

"I have been a member of TAXI for the last two years and have enjoyed all the perks membership has offered."
— Dwight Nichols,
TAXI Member